Monthly Archives: May 2013

Have book, want to read…but can’t! #readersblock

Twelve days ago I finished my last book, I already had my next one lined up waiting to be read. Water for Elephants immediately went in my handbag ready for the next morning’s commute. However, I find myself nearly two weeks later carrying round an unopened book. I think I’m suffering reader’s block.

In January I set myself the target of reading 60 books this year, the figure wasn’t just randomly picked from the air. Last year I managed to read 53 and it seemed reasonable to me that I could fit in another 7 books. I’m recording all of this on Goodreads, and their clever little app allows me to regularly check how I’m doing, am I ahead of schedule? Or slowly lagging behind?

Five months into this personal challenge I’m crashing badly, I forgot something really important at the very start, this was going to be a marathon not a sprint. The physical activity of reading can be tiring and straining on the eyes but I think I’ve also underestimated the emotional journey that reading takes you on. To have joined so many adventures since January to experience such highs, lows, fears, happiness it takes it toll on the mind and body.

Having found myself in a reader’s block, understanding how I got here, how do I get out?

Below is a list of ways, some have been recommended by friends, some I’ve picked up from other bloggers and some have just come to me in a moment of enlightenment and helped me a long my way. Which one will work this time, who knows but I hope it comes soon or I’ll never reach the magical number of 60!

1) Make sure the book I’m looking to start next fits with my current mood, no one is ever going to come out of reader’s block by reading War and Peace

2) Try listening to audio books or radio dramas, begin to once again enjoy escaping to another world to another person’s life

3) Go back and re-read an old favourite, we all have those weathered books on our shelves, the well-thumbed, red wine stained treasures that we can read at any time, in any place, even with reader’s block!

4) Go to a very boring presentation, conference, workshop – you’ll soon find yourself fighting the urge to read like Richard fights the urge to tell Judy to shut up*

*At this point I should declare my dislike for Richard and Judy. They are not now nor ever will be an authority on books for me.

5) And if all else fails, join a book club, there is nothing like the “friendly” pressure of the club’s matriarch to force you to read.

I of course will not be doing number 5 – I think I’d rather read Twilight followed by Dan Brown’s new book before I would even contemplate joining a book club, but hey that’s just me.

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What to give a new born? #childrensbooks

In January one of my oldest friends gave birth to her first child, a beautiful daughter Matilda. Lisa and her husband live in Perth Australia having emigrated just over a year earlier. As her pregnancy progressed pictures of beautiful baby clothes and toys were posted on Facebook with messages of thanks to the friends and family back home in the UK. It was clear, as the first grandchild to both sets of grandparents; this little girl was going to want for nothing.

When it comes to present buying I’d like to think people consider me thoughtful, not that the above presents weren’t thoughtful, but I didn’t want to walk into MotherCare and go for the cutest outfit I could find, or the squeakiest toy, whilst lovely gifts they are things Matilda will either grow out of, or if she is anything like I was as a child probably break them.

I got to thinking, what were some of the greatest gifts I received as a child, what has made the journey from my childhood home, to my Uni days in Bristol, my graduate days in Oxford and my professional life in London. As I looked around my rather small flat the answer rang out loud and clear. My books and my love of reading. I don’t know who gave me my first book, I’d ask my dad but I know he’d have no idea. My love of reading definitely came from both parents, I can remember from a small age seeing them both engrossed in books and wanting to experience whatever it was they were enjoying.

As I reminisce about my childhood I can see the important role books played. Saturdays were spent in the children’s library in Wigan soaking up as much as I could until I begged my mum to let me join the adult library to experience more challenging books. At school I was a librarian, the best thing being I use to just borrow books without formally checking them out meaning I could keep hold of them for as long as I liked, you also got to spend break periods and lunch times in the library whilst others were outside in the cold! On leaving my high school I did only little library book amnesty and took back the many books that adorned my shelves with a “Property of St Edmund Arrowsmith RC High School” stamped in the front cover.

Having identified books and my love of them as a key childhood gift the next decision was what book to buy Matilda. I knew she wouldn’t be able to read them yet, but I also knew Lisa would get great pleasure out of sitting and reading to her daughter, no doubt doing voices for the characters and showing her any illustrations. So, what to go for? The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Cat in the Hat, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish, Goodnight Moon? All very good books but I wanted to give Matilda something greater than just a book I wanted to give her the starting ticket to a journey of adventure and discovery, I wanted to give her my love of books.

In the end I went for a box set of Winnie the Pooh – not only a classic but a fun filled book about friendships and challenges and growing up. I thought it was perfect. The fact that it had been one of Lisa’s childhood favourites only added to the perfection. It seemed right in giving Matilda her first real book to write a message in the front cover. I searched for quotes about what reading can bring to your life and found two. One went in the book, one well I think I’ll save it for when she’s a little older.

In the book…

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go” ― Dr Seuss

The one for later…

“If you go home with somebody, and they don’t have books, don’t fuck ’em!” ― John Waters

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Who done it? #AgathaChristie

Nearly 18 months ago I turned 30. As an aside I realise I am now 31, I’m not living in some delusional world where I remain 30 forever. However, on turning 30 I wrote a list of 30 things I wanted to achieve whilst 30, a slight twist on the usual “things to do before 30!”.

One of the things was to read all the books on the BBC’s Top 100 Greatest Books list (complied in 2009). I must confess I didn’t complete that particular challenge, mainly because there were books on there I just didn’t want to read despite being told by a million people how classic and timeless they were. But what did shock me was that there weren’t any books by Agatha Christie.

Fast forward to October 2012 and I’m out on one of my random strolls round London, I do that when I have time to spare, no better way to experience a city and understand the character of it. I found myself near Leicester Square and not to my surprise found it incredibly busy, but wait, this seemed busier than usual and I was sure I could hear some amplified speaking. I rounded the corner to find a cordoned off area and the unveiling of the Agatha Christie memorial. I later found out is was designed by Den Twiston-Davies and is located in the middle of theatreland to represent her contribution to the stage. Did you know she was the first female playwright to have 3 plays performing in the West End simulaneously? and The Mousetrap is the world’d longest-running show?

Anyway, back to the point of this post. The absence of Christie on the greatest books list, and the unveiling of her memorial in London made me think about how many of her books I had read. The answer came to a big fat ZERO! I was shocked at this, I know so many of the stories, I can name so many of the books, how had I have not read any of them?! The answer was quite simple, I’d fallen in love with David Suchet’s Poirot and Geraldine McEwan’s Miss Marple, not to mention the numerous cameos by famour actors. Yes I had fallen foul to the “oh I know what happens in that book, because I’ve watched it on TV not because I’d actually read the books”. I was crest fallen, ashamed, I spent worringly amounts of time wailing in the streets. OK so I didn’t quite go that far but it did get me thinking about making a conscious effort to read at least one her books.

Another fast forward to December and I find myself with some time to spare in the vicinity of charity shops, well there is only one option let’s go look at the books. To my delight there were 3 Agatha Christie books in a beautiful hardback Classic Collection edition. They had to be mine, it felt like I was meant to find them. I decided there are then to set myself a challenge – to collect the entire Christie cataglogue, ideally in the Classic Collection edition. Since then I’ve found another 5 of her books in the right edition so my figures stand at 8 got, 84 needed. If I was happy to take any edition of her books I reckon I’d be near completion but doing it this way makes me treasure them more and bizarrely seems a more fitting tribute to such a magnificent writier.

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The Help

I recently read a blog by Johann Thorsson “Why do we pick the books we do? http://bit.ly/16wFX1b In it he came up with a number of reasons, more than one of which resonated with me.

1) Reviews from sources I trust – makes sense

2) The writer’s previous work – yeah! I’m not the only one to go out and buy an author’s entire back catalogue after falling in love with one book

3) The fear of missing out…

With this last reason, I know exactly the point he is making. Everyone is reading it, everywhere you look on the tube you’re faced with the front cover, whether it’s in the hands of the person whose arm pit you’re stuck in, or on advertisement boards. With certain books there becomes this need to be part of the group who can say “Oh I’ve read that”.

And yet I find myself recoiling from this. I avoid the bests selling fiction list in the Times on a Saturday, I put blinkers on when in Waterstones* avoiding looking at the neatly ordered chart of books to read. For some reason I don’t want to be one of the masses. I want to read a book because I’m in the right place for that story, for the character’s journey, for the world I’m about to disappear into, not because if I don’t read it I’ll be missing out.

This desire to be alone with a book leads me down two paths…

1) I have to be somehow ahead of the game, reading books before they become the bible of the commuter. How it’s done, what magic is used to pick a book before it becomes a best seller I really don’t know; but I have from time to time found myself capable of it.

If you stick with this blog you’ll realise I am in no way sophisticated with my reading, I do not discriminate, I’ll try most things. It is this open mindedness which led to me having read all three 50 shades of Grey books before the middle England housewife had got out of bed and recommended it for next month’s book club. It also took me to the dark world of Harry Hole long before it became cool and trendy to be into Scandinavian literature.

But as I said I’ve no idea how that selection happens, maybe I am the trend setter, maybe I wield a power to make a book a best seller…..ermmmmm maybe not.

The second of the paths, is probably the more obvious and more often frequented.

2) I read a book long after Richard and Judy have recommended it. I normally find these books in the charity shop, once loved and cherished by one of the masses; it’s now been donated to make room on the shelf for the next must read.

So that is how I came to find myself reading The Help four years after it was first published and two years after it was made in to a major motion picture. Motion picture, I love that phrase so much more emotive and inspiring than film.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, I can understand why a movie mogul made it into a motion picture, I get why it became a popular read with book clubs up and down the country…and yet do I love it? I’m I inspired by it? Do I think it’s a book to last the ages?

Honest answer, no. In my teens I became obsessed with the writing of Maya Angelou, that wonderful lady took a 15 year old from Wigan to a world I couldn’t for a long time believe was real. How could people treat each other like that? Why did colour matter so much? Her life opened my eyes to the fight for race equality and the reality of people’s lives not that many years ago. From there reading The Help was like adding lemonade to a glass of white wine – adding a bit of sweetness and taking off the acidic edge.

Although the story is based around the relationships between the white employers and the coloured help I couldn’t help but find myself more interested in the inner workings of the Junior League, the treatment of Celia Foote, the out casting of Skeeter – when was someone going to speak up about those injustices. These sickly sweet and yet secretly vindictive ladies are the ones I want to know more about, what will Hilly do if someone was to publicly stand up to her, will Elizabeth ever think for herself.

Kathryn Stockett is a very good writer and whilst I do not want to seem uninterested in the race battle that went on in America and the rise of the civil rights movement. I for one would love to read more about the day to day lives of the women of Jackson Mississippi’s Junior League.

*other book shops and review lists are available

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There is one woman in this book club and that’s enough for me

Like many people out there I love to read. When enthralled with a particularly good book I have been known to read whilst walking through the streets, yes I am that annoying person, whilst queuing in the supermarket, whilst pretending to take notes in a seminar, whilst on the phone to some one, “hmm yes, of course I’m listening to you…no I can’t repeat what you just said” and have even taken a book with me when I’ve gone for a wee in the hope that I can draw it out long enough to read a couple of pages. At school I often got in trouble for not being in the right place in my book, having read many pages and in some cases chapters ahead of the classroom reading out loud pace.

But there is something about the leafy world of books that I don’t like. In fact saying I don’t like it is quite an understatement. I have such a problem with this “thing” that it annoys me when others partake and I would fight tooth and nail for it to be banished to room 101.

What is this terrible thing I speak of…bad punctuation, mixing of American and English spelling (yes it does happen), typos in the print, people ruining the ending of a good book, Richard and Judy recommendations…no it is none of these things, although they do all erk me somewhat.

My issue is with book clubs. There I’ve said it. The very thought of one brings me out in rash.

As I said at the very beginning of this blog, I love to read. I don’t however love to discuss the deeper symbolism of the use of dark winter nights for the turning points in the story, or the ongoing competing theme of self loathing and narcisism. I don’t want to get into the mind of the protagonist and consider what a diary entry during the events of chapter 13 may have looked like. I did all of that at school and college. I’ve got GCSE’s and A-Levels to prove I can do it. Now I just want to escape the world through man’s greatest achievement, in my opinion, words on paper that create a different world.

So, I hear you all ask, what is the purpose of a one woman book blog. Well as much as don’t want to sit around with others and debate 2nd and 3rd level meanings to Spot the Dog I do read a lot and thought I might be able to give some guidance on what’s fun, what’s addictive, what’s so trashy you’ll love it and what you should put in a tin and bury it in the garden never to be read again, yes Twilight readers I’m talking to you.

I don’t claim this blog will be witty, clever or even entertaining but I’ll write from the heart, like every true author.

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